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Fountain of Grace

A Christian and Missionary Alliance Church

881 McQueen Smith Road South

Prattville, AL 36066

Phone: 334-365-5511     Fax: 334-365-4402



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Is Water Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

Part Three: The Arguments From The Primary Bible Passages


by Pastor Tony Butler


Acts 2:38


Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ to remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


This verse is the mother of all cherry picked scripture used by groups like the Church of Christ, as well as certain Holiness and Apostolic groups. People who believe water baptism is necessary for salvation think Acts 2:38 is a slam dunk verse that ends all controversy. Anyone that dares to explain the verse differently from how they interpret it is seen by them as wresting the scriptures to destruction.


Everyone recognizes at first glance the verse appears to be saying that the remission of sins is the result of baptism. However, if you take the whole chapter into account things change quickly. If Acts 2:38 was the only verse in the bible that speaks to the remission of sins then I would say they have a case. In reality, there is much more to it.


Keeping it in Context – Read all of Acts chapter two


The context of Acts 2:38 has to do with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). After the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit they began to speak in the various tongues of the foreign Jewish proselytes who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2:8-11).


Some of the Jews accused the disciples of being drunk but Peter began to explain to them what was taking place. Every person in the audience was either a Jew or a Jewish proselyte. Peter explained to them that what they thought was drunkenness or madness was actually the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s prophecy in the Old Testament. Peter quotes Joel 2:30-32 which begins with the terrible day of the Lord/Yehovah and ends with a promise that whoever would call upon the name of Yehovah/the Lord would be saved. Peter was speaking to Jews (Acts 2:22) and they all understood what he was talking about.


Peter used the prophecy of Joel as a foundation to establish an essential truth which is the key to properly understand Acts 2:38. He told the Jews how Jesus, Who had openly walked among them doing miracles in their midst, (2:22-23) was put to death by them. (All the Jews there had that knowledge) He declared how Christ’s resurrection from the dead was prophesied in the Old Testament and was now fulfilled (2:22-34). Peter declared that the One they had put to death is now resurrected and that God had made Him Lord/Yehovah and Christ/Messiah.


Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.


Peter had already told them from Joel 2:32 that whoever would “call upon the name of the Lord” would be saved. It is plain to see that Peter was showing the Jews by the scriptures that Jesus was Yehovah/Lord so they would call upon the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved.


Until that point in time they had been unrepentant about their actions and unbelief towards Jesus (which had led to His crucifixion). The words of Peter pricked the Jews hearts to the core. They realized they had horribly messed up by crucifying the Lord and cried out to Peter asking him and the other apostles what they should do (Acts 2:37).


This brings us to our primary verse that is used by various groups to prove that the remission of sins comes through repentance and water baptism.


Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ to remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


There are several things to notice as we think about this text. First of all, not one time did Peter tell them to believe on Jesus in this verse. Church of Christ people always fail to mention that. Secondly, Peter had already told them how to be saved, “Calling on the name of the Lord”. Thirdly, Peter preached the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ revealing to the unbelieving Jews that Jesus was the Lord they should call upon to be saved.


The Jews understood perfectly what Peter was saying to them. They heard the truth and all they had to do now was repent. Repentance simply means to have a change of heart from what is false to what is true. What would be their change of heart? Their change of heart would be going from believing Jesus was a trouble maker that they had put to death to believing Jesus is Lord and their Messiah.


The repentance Peter required toward Jesus by the Jews would be manifested by calling upon the name of the Lord which would lead to the remission of sins. It would be by faith and not by water. The Jewish audience understood and that is the reason Peter didn't have to mention believing on Jesus in Acts 2:38. Repentance and water baptism is useless without faith. It was the calling on the name of the Lord that would save them. Public baptism would be the evidence that they truly believed. Salvation would come by calling on the name of the Lord which would be followed by baptism.


There are other scriptures that equate the phrase "calling on the name of the Lord" with salvation. The idea of baptism "for the remission of sins" in 2:38 can only stand when the verse is isolated out of context and separated by the multitudes of scripture that clearly teach forgiveness is through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.


1 Corinthians 1:2 to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called out with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.


Romans 10:12-13 For there is no difference both of Jew and of Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call on Him. (13) For everyone, "whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved."


The Big Problem for Groups like the Church of Christ


Acts 10:1-48


The difficulty for groups like the Church of Christ is proving that the remission of sins only takes place through water baptism. They teach no one can be forgiven or receive the gift of the Holy Spirit until they are properly baptized. I have a huge problem with that kind of thinking. Peter understood what was needed for the remission of sins better than anyone! He was God’s apostle, preacher, and God’s chosen vessel to bring the good news to a particular Gentile named Cornelius. This biblical narrative will clarify exactly how Peter believed the remission of sins would take place.


You need to understand from Acts chapter two until Acts chapter ten, several years had gone by (around twelve I think). The Jewish Christians were not going to the Gentiles to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles - Rom. 11:13) had just been recently converted and had not yet begun his missionary journeys. The awful vestige of racism and bigotry against the Gentiles was still to be found in the Christian Jews as it was in the unbelieving Jews in those days.


One day while Peter was in a town called Joppa, he had a vision by God which ultimately led him to a house of a Roman Centurion who happened to be a Jewish proselyte living in Caesarea. God was about to teach Peter something very important. Peter was soon to discover that God wasn’t prejudiced against the Gentiles and was calling them to salvation just as He was the Jews.


If you read the account of Peter’s message to Cornelius and those with him from Acts 10:34-43 then you will see something incredible. In verse forty three you will see it was by believing in Jesus and not by water baptism that remission of sins would take place for these Gentiles.


Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.


It is important to notice in Acts chapter two where Peter declared Jesus to be Lord to the Jews by His death, burial, and resurrection, he is now declaring the same message to these Gentiles (10:36-43). Baptism has no part in the gospel but the following does:


1 Corinthians 15:1-4 And, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and in which you stand; (2) by which you also are being kept safe, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (3) For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, (4) and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures;


1 Corinthians 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. (18) For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those being lost, but to us being saved, it is the power of God.


As soon as Peter said in Acts 10:43 that anyone who believes will have their sins forgiven, Cornelius and those with him believed and were saved. We know this because they all received the gift of the Holy Spirit in the same way the Jews had received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. They began to speak in tongues and glorify God.


Peter and the Jews with Him were amazed! Peter then declared that there was no reason that Cornelius and those with him couldn’t be baptized by water because they had received the Holy Spirit just as he and the Jews received the Spirit. There is no denying this text proves one can receive the Holy Spirit without being water baptized. Cornelius's sins were remitted by belief in Jesus and was then baptized by the Holy Spirit and then was water baptized.


Acts 2:38 and the Receiving of the Holy Spirit


Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ to remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Cornelius in Acts ten didn’t ask Peter anything as the Jews did when Peter preached to them in Acts 2. Cornelius simply heard the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ coming from Peter’s mouth. While Peter was yet preaching Cornelius had already believed and received the remission of sins and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. According to the Church of Christ one can’t receive the Holy Spirit until one is baptized. They believe baptism and the new birth are one in the the same. Peter reveals by the scripture in Acts 10:43 the means by which remission of sin truly takes place.


Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.


If one just reads Acts 2:38 by itself without reading the whole chapter in context and without reading Acts chapter ten, then I could see how one would be prone to think that the act of baptism is what produces the remission of sins and the giving of the Holy Spirit.


In Acts 10:43 the mystery is cleared up completely when Peter himself declares very specifically the means of forgiveness. It is completely by faith in the Lord Jesus. This is consistent with hundreds of bible passages within the New Testament. I will list a few below:


Acts 16:30-31 And leading them outside, he said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your household.


Romans 3:25-26 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


Luke 24:46-47 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: (47) And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.


Revelation 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;


The Emphasis of Belief Over Water Baptism by Peter?


Acts 11:13-17


Acts 11:13-17 And he declared to us how he had seen an angel in his house, who stood and said to him, Send men to Joppa and call for Simon whose last name is Peter, (14) who will tell you words by which you and all your house shall be saved. (15) And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. (16) And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (17) If God gave to them the same gift as to us, they having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to prevent God?


The context


Having left the house of Cornelius, Peter made his way back to to Judea. The Jews of Judea had heard how the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews who believed in Jesus had received the Holy Spirit. There were certain Jews that didn’t like the idea of the Gentiles being included in God's salvation and contended with Peter (11:3). Peter began to rehearse the whole experience to them. The verses stated above are very telling when it comes to the emphasis of Peter as he was relating the story to others.


First, there isn’t the slightest mention of water baptism in Peter’s testimony to the Jews. If water baptism was the big deal and absolutely essential for the remission of sins, why did Peter fail to mention it at all?


Secondly, Peter did emphasize how the Gentiles had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 11:16,17) Peter recognized that the Gentiles had received the same “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:16) Jesus had promised in Acts 1:5. God used the experience in Peter's life to help him to remember the words Jesus had spoken to Him years earlier.


Please see it reader! I know Acts 2:38 apart from context sounds like water baptism is the means that brings the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, when you look at the entirety of Acts two in context, as well as Acts ten and eleven, then certain things become very clear.


The remission of sins in 2:38 would be accomplished by first “calling upon the Lord” to be saved (2:21) as a result of repentance.The repentance of acts 2:38 was the changing of the heart from unbelief to belief concerning the words of Peter about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2:23-35).


This is consistent with scripture as a whole in the New Testament. Salvation is all about us believing what Jesus did for us on the cross and not the acts of obedience we do for Him. All acts of obedience in following Jesus are to be done because we are saved and not so we can get saved, whether it be by baptism, the keeping of commandmentss or the doing of good works. The forgiveness of sins is only accomplished through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and is only appropriated by individuals through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.(Eph. 2:8,9; Romans 4:1 through 5:1).


Once God opens blind eyes to these things, the legalistic approach of water baptism for salvation is destroyed upon the rock of gospel grace. Salvation by faith with bring you into the glorious liberty of Christ and His grace.


Romans 3:25-26 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


Luke 24:46-47 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: (47) And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.


In conclusion


Although I don’t believe water baptism can save you or bring any kind of remission of sins, it is an ordinance that Christ commanded. Anyone who is a christian should be baptized in Christ’s name. I believe the proper mode of water baptism is by immersion. The water baptism that takes place in His name should never be done for the purpose of getting saved or receiving the Holy Spirit. Baptism should be done in obedience only because one is already saved through faith in Christ's name. I will discuss this more later. (Proceed to part 4)



Go to Part Four: Mark 16:15,16